Secret Life of an Expat: The Hunger Games [BOOK WEEK 2!]
Maybe I’m not as smart as other people, or maybe I just get bored reading about normal people’s lives, but I’ve always had a preference for young adult fiction. I suppose it brings me back to that blissful time when I thought I could do anything, be anyone, the world was at my feet, waiting for me to take it over. All I had to do was choose which path to take. Now as I edge into my late 30s, doors are starting to close. I mean, not really, there’s that character on House who went to medical school in his forties, right? But in reality, my options are dwindling. The occasional, “I bet I would have really enjoyed studying biology,” thoughts are pretty much nixed now. I’ve chosen my path, meandering as it is, and now I have to see it through.
And it’s not like I chose a path that makes me miserable. I get to create, write stories, draw pictures, and sometimes get paid for it. Maybe the fact that I’m in a constant state of creation is what attracts me to the characters in young adult books. These unfinished people, these kids who are figuring out what they’re good at in the midst of chaos. Young adult/middle grade fiction is unhindered by bad life decisions. By people hating their jobs, or facing a personal, unchangeable flaw that makes them miserable. There is no “Leaving Las Vegas” in young adult fiction, no watching someone who’s run out of options drink themself to death. The stories I like to read are about adolescent and teenage heros, saving the world from some really, really terrible doom to which they are personally connected.
These kids never expected to be heros. They don’t want to do what they know they have to do to save the world. They just want to be normal and safe and happy with their families, but can’t because their families have been torn apart or killed by the very thing they have to fight. They risk their lives and sanity to do what they know is right. And in young adult fiction, the difference between right and wrong is usually pretty clear.
I’ve read the Harry Potter books so many times that when I write, I often think about the way they are constructed. How little hints are dropped sometimes several books in advance to lead up to a plot point. How Rowling handles time and conversation and emotions. I’m also a huge Philip Pullman fan, I adore the His Dark Materials trilogy (the first book being The Golden Compass). The way he creates different worlds based on this one, his fantasy, his cultures, even his science are all wonderfully inventive and blasphemous.
Now I have a new YA series to inspire me. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Actually I haven’t finished book three, just Kindled it a few days ago. If I’m not mistaken, it was wildly popular in the U.S. so you probably know the premise already. If not, it’s about a teenage girl, Katniss Everdeen, who lives in poverty in a post-apocalyptic world. Every year, 24 children have to fight each other to the death in a televised war game set up to amuse the rich and keep the masses in line. That’s the jumping off point. You can pretty much guess what happens next, then what happens after that.
The Hunger Games is not Harry Potter. The bad guy is a dictatorship. The object of the Games is to watch children killing children, on live television. It’s the worst possible future America could end up with, if America went in the worst possible direction. But it’s so fun to read.
The story is a wonderful blend of bloody violence, introspectiveness, and fashion details. (Maybe Alan Ball could do the series.) The main character is a tomboy huntress who doesn’t fully understand or trust love though she loves with all her heart. The young men in her life are dreamy, and the world, simply awful. The writing is fantastic: direct, to the point, it has inspired me a lot. Now when I look at my own writing, instead of thinking of Harry Potter, which I have come to learn is full of passive verbs, boring metaphors, and probably lots of other flaws I will never allow myself to see, I think of The Hunger Games. I think of how Suzanne Collins never seems to start a sentence with “I” even though the book is in the first person. How Katniss Everdeen thinks about every little thing, plans her moves, considers the reactions of others, but manages not to bore us. Collins is great with action, killing, and pain. Her sentences are short and direct, and she shows everything.
The books influenced my own novel in a very big way. I had been on the fence about putting Annie’s Fish, which is hopefully in its last draft, in the present tense. I resisted because it felt like jumping on a bandwagon, because I knew a few other writers who were doing the same thing, because it’s fashionable. But after reading The Hunger Games in the present tense, my own draft looked clumsy and stilted in the past. All those unnecessary saids and -ed endings. I put chapter one in the present tense, thought it worked, and sent it to my writing exchange partner, our dear ETC, telling her how I’d been reading The Hunger Games and blah blah blah, thought I’d give it a shot. A few minutes later I got an earful about how I shouldn’t just change the tense of my book because it worked for the book of the month. But when she actually read the chapter she agreed that Annie’s Fish works better in present tense, and now I think my narrative has much more life than it did before.
I’m very happy to have a new young adult book series that’s clever enough to put among my favorites, and I highly recommend The Hunger Games to anyone looking for a good read.
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